Many in Minnesota thought that the Cleveland Browns pulled a Cleveland Browns when they hired Minnesota Vikings “offensive coordinator” Kevin Stefanski. While Stefanski was the OC in Minnesota after John DeFilippo was fired, he essentially ran offensive “consultant” Gary Kubiak’s offense and “hired” Kubiak’s team.
It wasn’t just that, as the 2019 Stefanski lead offense was as underwhelming as it was predictable. The Vikings had the best 1-2 punch in the league at receiver in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, but couldn’t move the chains through the air unless quarterback Kirk Cousins ran a bootleg or rollout.
That was courtesy of the 27th-ranked pass blocking offensive line, but nothing we saw from Stefanski screamed “this guy is the next big head coach”.
How wrong were we…
When analyzing Stefanski in Cleveland vs. Stefanski in Minnesota, you start to see what I’m dubbing the Zimmer effect. This article from Browns Digest breaks down what makes Stefanski’s Browns effective.
“One of the consistent elements of the Browns season has been an efficient decision making process, which requires Stefanski to trust the staff he assembled. A major factor in putting Mayfield in position to succeed, the Browns call plays quickly and are at the line of scrimmage early so Mayfield can read the defense, utilize motion and make the appropriate pre-snap reads and check into the best play.”
Their clock management is also worth noting:
“It also reflects in the team’s clock management and making key decisions at points in the game. They are incredibly well prepared and the Browns don’t waste timeouts to cover for mistakes or think, saving them for game altering situations, challenges and the end of each half. On fourth down, the Browns are never caught flat footed, commit to a call and understand the potential consequences.”
Just Google ‘Vikings Clock Management’ to get the jist of what I’m going to say.
Then there’s pre-snap motion. The Vikings were 24th in the league in regards to pre-snap motion despite having success with it in spots during the 2020 season (as this article by Zone Coverages Sam Ekstrom explains).
Ekstrom’s article touches on Stefanski, ironically.
“This isn’t the first time members of the Vikings offensive think tank have preached the importance of marrying run plays with pass plays to make them look similar. This was significant tenet of Kevin Stefanski’s offensive approach, which was, of course, heavily influenced by current coordinator Gary Kubiak.”
That didn’t last long. Rather, perhaps Ekstrom was giving credit to the wrong person.
“Presnap motion is increasingly used as a way to rate offenses. The more motion teams use, the better tend to be. Not only does it often reveals the coverage the opponent is playing, it forces them to adjust on the fly and can create numbers advantages and produce misalignments for the defense. The Browns have used motion all season, but particularly after the bye week, the Browns are using more of it and at times, moving multiple players and adjusting their formation more than once on a given play.”
None of this would be possible without the stellar offensive line of the Browns. I’ve written and discussed the Minnesota Vikings offensive line issues ad nauseam, in articles like this:
What about the Browns line?
“None of what the Browns are doing works without the offensive line. Between the condensed formations where they are asking them to move the opponent off the ball in tight quarters or empty formations where they are getting little if any help in protection and some of the ambitious play-action calls the team makes, it all requires the Browns to be strong up front.”
The final component is coaching. You’d think with the six centuries of coaching experience the Vikings had in 2020 between Zimmer, Kubiak, Dennison and Capers, the Vikings would run like a well oiled machine.
However, as the unidentified Vikings offensive linemen/coaches I spoke with for this article pointed out when watching tape of the Vikings O-Line?
“The reason that I asked about the OL coach is because the whole OL plays like shit. They look completely unprepared to play to me. It’s bad right now dude. Really bad. I’m sure there’s plenty of talent but it’s not showing up.”
The ironic thing is my sources cited the Browns’ Bill Callahan when comparing the Vikings’ line to the one Cousins had in Washington.
“Anyone that blames Kirk for what is going on is out of their mind. He had an exceptional OL when they were healthy in Washington, aside from Spencer Long, and the OL there was run by a technician in Bill Callahan. When you watched the OL there things were intentional, every single guy on the Vikings OL plays with different technique. Sometimes a certain guy will do a certain thing different to suit his abilities/skill set but here it looks like the Vikings OL doesn’t even have a coach. It looks like they get handed a piece of paper and someone says, go ahead and figure it out on your own.”
When you tie all of this together it’s really not that surprising that the more learned of us in Vikings media/fandom want the Vikings to move on from the mediocrity of the Zimmer regime.
I’ve never received as many comments to my articles as I have for this series and while I appreciate every single click that my network generates (not in a click bait way, which some people claim this series is for despite being the exact same consistent criticism that I’ve had about the Zimmer regime for years), I’m a bit surprised so many people still think Zimmer will figure things out despite making the exact same moves he did from 2014-19.
He’s learned nothing, despite being handed more than any Vikings (or NFL) head coach in history.
New stadium? Check.
State of the art team facility? Check.
Biggest FA signing in league history? Check.
Every corner and player/free agent/extension to build his defense? Check.
Offensive Coordinators and consultants that have been NFL head coaches? Which means A LOT of money? Check.
Despite all of that? The Vikings make and get embarrassed in the playoffs every other season. Meanwhile, Stefanski is proof positive than Zimmer is the problem whether it be through demands on the offense or the lack of investment in the offensive line needed to succeed in today’s NFL.
As I pointed out in the last article in this series; the Vikings offense should be one of the best in the league if not THE best (based on personnel and the success they had despite Zimmer):
So, when you combine all of this and the results of every season since 2014 (good regular season records, playoff embarrassment, maxed cap, the lack of success despite the talent they’ve had on both sides of the ball, etc).
I sincerely ask, what is he doing differently this time around that makes you think he’ll be the sixth coach in league history to win a Super Bowl AFTER five seasons with a team?
Because I’m just seeing more of the same and that clearly isn’t good enough for a team/offense that can’t waste anymore time.